Ronda will travel back in time for a few days, from 15th to 17th May, to return to the times when Romantic travellers sought out the city in search of mystery and adventure in a world still foreign to industrial transformations.
Many a traveller turned up in Ronda at the beginning of the 19th century. Of all these travellers, we will talk about those that reached international fame.
Around the year 1830, Ronda had already enjoyed the presence of characters as renowned as Washington Irving, Benjamin Disraeli, Prosper Mérimée and Richard Ford. Irving, author of ‘Tales of the Alhambra’, wrote in his diary about bandits and the landscape, two of the themes that appealed most to the Romantics. Disraeli, the English politician who travelled to recover his health, wrote letters to his relatives describing his trips from Gibraltar to the Serranía de Ronda, which were organised by the Rock’s governor. Mérimée, who achieved his greatest recognition with Bizet’s adaptation of his novel ‘Carmen’, learnt about this story of love and jealousy from the Countess of Teba. He adorned it with popular characters, muleteers, smugglers, bullfighters and travellers.
One of the travellers who contributed the most to Spain’s Romantic image was Richard Ford. He travelled alone across the Serranía de Ronda, establishing fascinating friendships in Andalusia, such as those with José María ‘El Tempranillo’ and the Marquis of the Amarillas. He also made extraordinary drawings depicting all his travels.
Later on, it was Edmond Boissier who roamed Malaga’s mountain ranges looking for the pine cone from an age-old pine tree. He did so dressed in traditional clothing from the area and laden with his notes on how to build up a herbarium. His name will be forever linked to that of the Spanish fir (pinsapo), a unique indigenous species from the Serranía de Ronda.
The French writer, Théophile Gautier, also recorded his passion for this corner of Andalusia, where he claimed to have experienced Ronda’s unique light.
Stories written by female travellers threw a new light on the ideas spread by Romantic travellers. These women, who belonged both to the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, travelled without cross-dressing and wrote without hiding behind male pen names. Their eccentric deeds caused great admiration among the regular visitors to Parisian and London salons.
Lady Louisa Tennyson travelled to the Serranía de Ronda in 1850. In her writings she appeared to be startled by the fact that the owners of the lands whose beauty so profoundly impressed her, neither lived on those lands, nor cared for them. She also illustrated her travels in her travel diary.
In those years, however, the Serranía de Ronda was not exactly a safe place. In fact, Joséphine E. de Brinckmann talks about how she had to travel with two riflemen to defend her from bandits and republicans. She wrote about this in her ‘Promenades en Espagne pendant les années 1849 et 1850’. Those bandits were, according to Joséphine, people of the worst possible kind. She also talks about how she felt moved by the ladies dressing the saints for the Holy Week processions.
In those times, two main routes brought visitors to Ronda; the route from Gibraltar and the one from Seville. The Countess Robersart came the first time from Gibraltar. The muleteers led her, during a particularly ferocious storm, down along a winding path which she described as ‘an endless perpendicular line’.
Gibraltar became a British colony in the year 1830, which meant that it was no longer a Spanish military post. During that time, bandits would travel the different paths that led to Ronda, and they knew all the shortcuts. Some were experienced guides, such as Richard, who accompanied Penelope Holland on her trip in 1867. It is almost impossible to believe that such a woman, so serious and puritanical, was an intrepid Amazon capable of carrying out such a journey. She tells us all about it in her book ‘Recollections of Spanish Travel in 1867’, whose cover depicts a Penelope dressed in a black dress buttoned up to the neck, looking more like a nun than an adventurer.
For these women, who enjoyed commodities in their own countries and were still unknown in Spain, travelling around Andalusia was a truly marvellous and authentic experience.
In the 20th century modernity reached Spain, but many other travellers continued to visit Ronda, where time seemed to have stood still. Hemingway, Orson Welles, Rilke and so many others found in Ronda the city of their dreams or, as it is more commonly known, the Ciudad Soñada.